Hercules, his club and the French Revolution
The seminal article, ‘Hercules and the Radical Image of the French Revolution’ by Lynn Hunt appeared in the second issue of the journal Representations in the spring of 1983. That contribution to the study of the political culture of the French Revolution claimed that the figure of Hercules came quite suddenly to stand in for the French people. Hunt also observed that the re-invention of this mythic hero in the guise of a representative of collective popular power at its most militant was a creation of the Jacobin government and not of the popular classes, for the strong worker colossus featured only later in the socialist and proletarian iconography of the nineteenth century. Through a close analysis of a range of visual imagery, this chapter revisits the picturing of Hercules during the French Revolution to consider how this mythical being had figured under the Ancien Régime and was then re-appropriated at a time when the French nation went to war. It may be that the guises of the fighter and even of the flawed warrior hero, rather than those of the labouring worker, provide a better explanation for the appearances of Hercules at this pivotal moment in history.
The Exemplary Hercules – chapter 11